Ordinary people, Extraordinary lives

If you don’t ask, you will never find out about the potentially wonderful reward!” was one of the many insightful takeaways from a night of whimsical, comical, and endearing recounts.

As we dive into award-winning journalist Fiona Harari’s repository of fascinating stories, we seem to discover the unexpected in seemingly mundane lives. As Fiona shares her years of experience in her field, she also charts her career progression and encourages us to embrace the uncertainty in navigating a career.

From interviewing businessmen to British spies, one of the most poignant stories shared that night, however, was the story of an ordinary man, Mr Paul Segal. Having lived a remote life, no one could describe his face, the sound of his voice, or name anyone he had loved or who had loved him. This nameless man seemed to be void of an identity, a voice, an acquaintance, or an existence even till the day of his death. But everyone has a story, and Fiona sought to piece the nebulous puzzle of Paul Segal’s life into a picture. After extensive ground research and a deep dive into national archives, Mr Paul Segal was later discovered to be a violinist, an artist, and a World War II survivor. This was a story of a man of Jewish descent, born in Romania and travelled to Paris post World War II. He was a prolific artist, and his last point of contact was with an ex-girlfriend. It seemed that he loved people, but in limited ways, and chose to live the life he lived till the day he passed. As Fiona chronicled the unexpected intricacies of a shadowed man, strangers who had heard of the story were moved and offered to pay for Mr Segal’s memorial, with 150 strangers turning up on the day of his funeral.

“Stories that engage me the most, are from the most normal people.” This wholesome narrative was among many others, like the story of Mary Crawly, a 91-year-old woman who ran a pub, and even Fiona’s cold calls for classified ads which has now made me glance twice at advertising columns.

As Fiona relates the remarkably rewarding experiences as a journalist, her zealousness rejuvenates the minds of young inquisitives and reignites the vitality of life veterans. “Know whatever what you do in life, always engage with people, you never know where you will end up” was a timely reminder to put things into perspective and to not let small moments pass one by. It reminds us to be bold and worldly lest opportunities slip through our fingertips.

By Jiayin Foo, Mandelbaum House resident